Belated Recommendations?

Looks like I’m still catching up from my brain insurrection!  I, too, need recommendations – well maybe more of a favor?  I am working on a guide to museums and their role in creating culture and power structures – you know that vision of the museum as the equivalent of your patronizing uncle teaching you how to appreciate fine wine and invest in the right stocks.

So.  What is about museums that bother you/make you not visit?  Or what is it about museums that you like (she asked disingenuously)?

One thought to “Belated Recommendations?”

  1. I found this post only after replying to your latest one. Oops.

    Personally, I like museums, especially natural history ones. One of my biggest letdowns when I visited DC was that I didn’t have enough time to really look at all of the collections at the natural history museum. My travel companions don’t really have a penchant for descriptions of items in museums so I tend to feel rushed.

    Beyond that, though, a moment that made me think more about the functions of museums happened when I visited The Art Institute of Chicago last year. My boyfriend was insistent that we walked through all the exhibits because he loves history (and, as one of your readings coined it, has some “connoisseurship” for photos of historical site reconstructions and artifacts). But when we got to the Asian exhibit, I felt equally awed and puzzled. While the exhibit was beautiful, I couldn’t help but wonder how these artifacts came to be placed in a location so far from their origins. Many of the things I saw were from my neighboring countries and it unsettled me to see such dazzling displays so displaced from their contexts. Perhaps it was their familiarity that made me pause and think. But it was a surprising moment because I had never, before then, questioned the presence and functions of museums. Until then, museums were mere educational attractions. But, during that particular visit, I began wondering about issues of cultural appropriation and representation. How much of the showcasing is genuine in its intent (but how is genuine even defined…) and how much does it influence a visitor’s perspective? Do people, even without reflecting much on what they see and read within the building, leave with a perception that has been changed by what they had seen?

    Since then, I haven’t come to a concrete conclusion about how I feel about museums. For the most part, I still like them. But part of me feels kind of guilty for admiring things that might be much better off somewhere else in a less sterile “look at this beautiful thing under this strategically placed light” kind of environment. I think this is exactly where the products of your project will be especially helpful. I would love to visit a museum that actually addresses these concerns instead of silently overshadowing them with captivating exhibits that are usually stripped of their context apart from explanations that can fit on cards.

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